Trump as Opportunity

Not even several days in peaceful Medellin, the city that I am writing from this week, have been enough to wipe away the sorrow that I felt at the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States. I simply did not see it coming. I never imagined that American voters could elect a candidate who, during the campaign, insulted immigrants, offended women, Latinos and the black population; made fun of those with disabilities, showed minimum respect for religious diversity, challenged war veterans and their families, praised the leadership of Putin and Kim Jong-un, got excited about receiving support from David Duke (leader of the Ku Klux Klan) and the list goes on. Hillary was never the candidate we expected. We can also agree that the 2008 economic crisis signified a greater than documented aftershock among working class America. But Trump? Seriously? Whatever the case, democracy proved me deeply wrong.

But in spite of the valid reasons for being disappointed, it took me some time to understand the real cause of my sorrow at the result. The key was given to me by a colleague in Colombia. After listening to him explain the economic consequences of the unexpected democratic rejection of the peace agreement with FARC, I took the opportunity to ask him, on a personal level, how did the outcome affect you? His response was illuminating: “The most complicated thing was explaining it to my children,” he said. That is also the root of my trouble with Trump.

I will explain. It so happened that for months this person was a topic of family conversation. Not only did he provide material that helped explain to children the meanings of populism and demagoguery, but he also became an effective example for discussing the importance that societies make significant efforts to ensure respect of diversity and tolerance, banning racism, sexism and xenophobia. How then to explain to children that this very same person, due to popular vote, will end up being the most powerful man on the planet? Does this result not mean questioning the democratic system? And if the majority of Americans were not concerned by his cutting remarks and insults, will it not be the case that we, the parents, were wrong?

It is precisely because of the possibility that children will legitimately ask these questions that the election of Trump should be seen as an opportunity, rather than a threat. Disappointment cannot silence us. Now more than ever we need to continue family discussions on the basic principles that sustain modern democratic societies. For example, since Chile’s return to democracy, discussion has been a mainstay in society, avoiding the temptation of populism. However, there are signs that this is breaking down, (did you not hear the rude remarks made by the president of the C.U.T. to the Minister of Finance?)* So, although it is annoying, discussing what Trump signifies is the best way of avoiding any enthusiasm for this character. It will not be easy, but it has to be done.

*Editor’s note: C.U.T. stands for Central Unitaria de Trabajadores de Chile or Workers’ United Center of Chile, a union federation in Chile.

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